World Spearfishing Champs
Zadar, Croatia – 17 to 20 September 1998
By John Ross – NZ team manager
It was a five-hour bus trip, through deserted countryside scattered with bombed-out houses, from the airport in Croatiaâs capital city Zagreb to the town of Zadar. With a population of 80,000, the old town is spread across 17 islands and 117 islets, bordered on the mainland by the Zrmanja and Krka rivers and containing four national parks. In Zadarâs 3000-year history it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, most recently in the war with the Serbs. Most of the farmland I passed through has been covered with land mines, and will stay deserted for many years.
We were staying at the Hotel Barbara, a large and basic building that was quite good enough for us, but with pretty average food, and coffee like boiled-up road tar. Most of the other teams were staying on the islands near the dive areas, but all would move to the Hotel Barbara for the competition itself. Once the team had arrived – Darren had lost all his spearguns in transit, but other than that, all was well – we spent the next day recovering from the trip and trying to buy lead weights. There were three small dive shops in the town but none of them had much to offer.
That night Paul went to sleep early and locked me out of the room we were sharing. Later, Herb got up for a drink, and accidentally drank some soapy water intended for lubricating wetsuits. The next day, while I stayed behind to find Darrenâs spearguns and visit the Croatian Spearfishing Federation, the team left early to practise. The Croatian coast is very beautiful, with over 1000 islands and warm clear water, but has been heavily overfished for hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. There were lots of new fish species for us, but not many fish, and all were only about two inches long. The minimum weight for the competition was 500 grams!
The next few days were spent covering as much of the proposed dive areas as possible. The weather was very changeable, with violent thunder and lightning storms. One morning we left the marina in 45 knots and a bad hailstorm. Our hired boat, an American 22 foot Shamrock, had a petrol V8 engine instead of a diesel outdrive. It turned out to be a real gas guzzler, but under the circumstances it was probably the best boat available in Croatia. Darren parked it in the Boric Marina at about 100mph, with a very nervous agent looking on. There were four designated zones for the competition, each 80km square with many islets and reefs.
Six days before the competition was to begin, the Federation named the competition sites as Area Three and Area Four. Some teams were angered by this decision, saying that an official had previously told them Areas One and Two were the probable locations. They had therefore spent all their time practising in these areas, and complained that they had been lied to and misled. There were rumours about teams pulling out and going home, and also rumours that more fish were being taken off the list. Three days before the competition there was tragic news: a Ukrainian diver was found drowned. This naturally had a very sobering effect on everybody. A captainsâ meeting was organised by the French to discuss complaints against the Croatian Spearfishing Federation. It was a total waste of time, everybody shouting at once in four or five different languages. A second meeting was due to start at 9am but was postponed till 11am. At 11.30 the meeting started with lots of upset people, and again was cancelled until 3pm.
The Portuguese had gone home; the French werenât going to compete. Green wrasse were back on the fish list; rays were in and then taken out again; moray eels were out. It was just a circus. On day one of the competition, Area Four was the dive area, but because of strong winds the comp started late and ran for five hours. At the end of the day we were sixth out of 20 teams. Not too bad! On the second day, the planned Area Three was unworkable in the conditions, so the only alternative was Area One. Most people were unhappy with this, and stood around arguing until it looked like the whole event would have to be cancelled. Another captainsâ meeting, and we voted to continue. Disappointingly, our final placing went from sixth down to eighth.
With the weigh-in over, the prizegiving, speeches and dinner went on into the night and a great time was had by all. The final winners were Italy (first), Spain (second) and Croatia (third). I would like to thank our sponsors for their support. Picasso supplied wetsuits, tracksuits and spearguns; Steinlager gave us all our sports clothes, and Pro-Dive our windproof overalls. Summerset Apparel supplied us with dress clothes and Dive New Zealand gave us caps. We were the best-dressed team, and continually had other competitors asking to buy or swap our clothes! The Lion Foundation spearfishing committee and others gave us financial support. The help from sponsors is very much appreciated and goes a long way in helping us compete on the other side of the world. We had a great trip that was a great experience for us all. I would like to thank the team for giving me the opportunity to be manager and for being so enthusiastic and giving it their best. I would also personally like to thank our reserve Herb, who was our banker and was also in charge of our boat. He did an excellent job.